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Dear Friends in Christ,
Some of you have seen the movie “I Can Only Imagine.” If you haven’t, I would encourage you to see it. It’s not your typical cheesy religious movie that gives you the idea that, “if only you give your life to Jesus everything in your life will be great.” It’s a true story about Bart Millard who struggled with many things in his life, but especially his relationship with his abusive father. The title of the movie is the title of the popular Christian song he wrote after his Father came to faith, he struggled to forgive him, and his Father died. In the song he tries to imagine what it will be like to be with Jesus forever.
Paul says that now we see as through a glass darkly, or the NIV translates, now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. We can’t fully comprehend, we can only imagine, what it will be like to be with Jesus and see him face to face. But, instead of letting this fact move us to throw up our hands and say, “what’s the use, it’s all beyond my comprehension anyway”, Paul tells us to let this fact motivate us to know as much as we can by studying the word, and to let it increase our faith. We can’t even imagine all that God can do, so don’t be afraid to ask anything. Trust that there isn’t anything he can’t do. As the angel told Mary, nothing is impossible with God.
Our Scripture lessons this morning remind us that God can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine. When the people of Israel grumbled that they didn’t have food, they couldn’t imagine how God could or would provide for them. Their only thought was, “we have to go back to Egypt or we will starve to death in the wilderness.” We know that they couldn’t imagine how God would provide because when the manna appeared the next morning, they said to one another, “What is it?” Still today we can’t imagine this perfect food that must have provided complete nutrition appearing six days a week for forty years! But that’s exactly what happened. And Moses tells us that God did this to test his people. He did it to teach them to trust him; to trust that he would and could provide for them in ways they couldn’t even imagine; to trust that, although he can do anything, he only promises to provide what we NEED, and only one day at a time.
God had Moses record these things for our learning. Like Israel, we sin when we grumble and complain about what we have, or don’t have, to eat; and we have a lot more than Israel ever had. We easily fall for the class envy narrative that we hear all to often in our world today and end up grumbling against God because we don’t think he has given us enough, or at least as much as someone else. When there is too much month left at the end of the paycheck, we do everything except the most important thing, pray and search the Scriptures. Let God’s word point out our greed, our envy, our mismanagement of HIS gifts to us. Then confessing our sins, seeing them forgiven by Jesus, and asking God to provide what we need even though we don’t deserve it, trusting him to do what we might be afraid to ask or even imagine.
The Gospel reading also reminds us that we can’t even imagine what God can do. When large crowds were coming to Jesus, larger than usual because it was near the Passover, Jesus asked Philip, Where can we buy bread for these people to eat? Philip couldn’t imagine how that was possible. They were on the other side of the sea of Galilee. There weren’t any stores or markets anywhere close. And even if there were, two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to have just a little. They didn’t have enough money to purchase that much bread even if there were a market nearby. Andrew couldn’t imagine how they could feed so many people either. He said, there’s a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what is that for so many people? John tells us that Jesus asked the question about feeding all these people to test his disciples. He wanted to see how they would react when they were faced with a seemingly impossible situation. Would they conclude that there was nothing anyone could do? Or, would they pray? Would they turn to Jesus and say, “based on all that we have seen, all the healings you have performed, the fact that you calmed the storm and walked on water, the fact that you are the Christ the Son of the living God who provided manna for our fathers in the wilderness, we trust that you can and will find a way to provide food for all these people, even though we can’t imagine how.”
How would you have fared if you had been there and Jesus pointed to a hillside full of people, 5,000 men not counting the women and children who were with them, and asked, “how will we feed them?” If we are honest, we would admit that we would have failed the test just as Philip and Andrew and the rest of the disciples did. Like them, we would never have imagined that Jesus would take the five loaves and the two fish, give thanks for that which seemed to everyone to be not even enough for everyone to have a crumb, and have it end up being more than enough. In fact, to have twelve baskets full left over after everyone had eaten all they wanted.
Jesus wants us to understand that he is able to do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.
The examples from our lessons today have to do with food. God has promised to provide us with what we need, one day at a time. In the Lord’s Prayer Jesus calls it daily bread. He provides it most often by giving us the ability and the opportunity to work and to earn our daily bread. But, as our two lessons show, he can provide our daily bread in way that we can’t even imagine when and if that becomes necessary.
In the lesson from Ephesians, Paul has in mind something even more important than food. His prayer for the Ephesians and for us is that we would realize what God has done for us spiritually.
Think about what God has done. Humanly speaking, it’s very rare that a person would sacrifice themselves for someone else. Someone might do it for a child, or for the safety and welfare of their nation. But no one would sacrifice their lives for an enemy! Yet, that’s what Jesus did. We were his enemies, born dead in sin and completely opposed to everything God stands for. It wasn’t that we started to improve or see the light and so he decided to take a chance on us. No! While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. He sacrificed himself for people who deserved just the opposite.
We can’t even imagine anyone doing what Jesus did, anyone suffering what Jesus did, especially when he didn’t deserve to suffer and we did. But, even though we can’t imagine anyone doing what Jesus did, we know what it means. It means he loves us more than we can imagine anyone else loving us. Paul prays that, as we think about what Jesus did, we would be able to comprehend, along with all the saints, how wide and long and high and deep his love is, and that we would be able to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.
Not only did Jesus sacrifice himself for a world of sinners who deserved just the opposite so that, since we are part of the world of sinners, we could know that our sins are forgiven, he made sure that we learned about what Jesus did for us. As Paul says, how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? How wide and long and high and deep the love of God is, that out of the billions of people in the world, he saw to it that we heard the good news about Jesus; that the Holy Spirit used his word to convict us of our sinfulness and then to move us to trust that Jesus really did pay for our sins! Through the word and sacrament, he strengthens us with power through his Spirit in our inner self, so that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith. Because of what Jesus has done for us, although we can’t imagine how wonderful it will be, we have the certain hope that we will see Jesus and live with him in his kingdom for all eternity.
We can’t even imagine how great God’s power is and how great God’s love really is. But from what we have seen him do as it is recorded for us in his word, we do know this. His love for us is so great that he sent his perfect son, Jesus, to live and die in our place. His power is so great that Jesus rose from the dead. He can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine. Be reminded of his love and power daily through the study of his word. Never think that your problems, whatever they are, are too difficult for him to handle. Trust that he will provide all you need, one day at a time; and, even more important, even though you can only imagine what it will be like, that he has a place for you in heaven because of Jesus.